…was still lovely, of course. We caught the sun on the first day and I realised I hadn’t been there in good weather since 1998. It makes walking with no particular purpose in mind much more appealing.
In my second, or maybe third, year at university, I wrote an essay about Haussman’s Paris, and the period between 1853 and 1870 when he, along with Napoleon III, was responsible for what amounted to a wholescale razing and rebuilding of large swathes of the city. Huge numbers of slum-dwellers were effectively banished; their homes replaced by shiny new apartment buildings which only the rich could afford to live in. This is still the main reason why Paris’s inner city, in the sense in which we use the term, is largely outside the city.
Anyway, one of the things Haussman succeeded in putting in place was a set of rules governing future development in the city, which meant that subsequent building projects have had to abide by the aesthetic rules devised during his period as Prefect of the Seine. As a result, one of the most immediately Parisian of images is the wide, tree-lined boulevard edged with elegant buildings of greyish-white stone, never more than five stories high. This is the Paris that Haussman defined, and it’s still there much as he envisaged it.
And yet, there’s more variation in Paris than you might think, and it’s the sudden differences as much as the general sameness which make it a beautiful city. Not just the Eiffel Tower and the Centre Pompidou, but the unexpected sights which lurk around every other corner: a flea market; a gloomy courtyard, usually occupied by a grumpy-looking cat; a carousel; a sudden sharp hill leading up, or down, to a new vista. Paris does human-scale street life better than any city I can think of off the top of my head, with the possible exception of Beijing.
And it has La Grande Arche de la Défense, which is really big and has a hole in it:
More photos here.